November is upon us again, which would usually mean a trip to Alabama to see my grandmother Carlean. My grandmother and I have always had a special relationship. If you missed last November’s Turkeys and Banjos post, you can read it here.
She turned 89 a little while ago, sailing through the birthday in good health. This would be short-lived, however, as she came down with a serious infection that landed her in the hospital about a month later.
I’m sad to say that Carlean left us on Friday. She passed away in the same placid, peaceful state as the leaves fluttering from the nearby trees. She was my last remaining grandparent.
It’s always hard to lose a grandparent, especially your last one, but I’m thankful for the time I had with her.
As a child, one of the things I remember the most was making biscuits with grandmother. In the era before store-bought biscuits, she rolled out dough every morning and pulled a stool up to the counter so I could help. I have no idea what she let me do, but in the end I had flour all over my hands, and she had me convinced that I was a critical part of the biscuit-making process.
I was the first grandchild, and funnily enough, having raised two sons, Carlean had no idea how to comb a little girl’s hair. She did her best, but when I stayed at grandmother’s, my part was always slightly crooked, pigtails lopsided and sticking up in odd places.
She had a fondness for eating at the Cracker Barrel, chocolate-covered oranges and singing stuffed animals, which she often bought family members for Christmas. She loved traveling the Smoky Mountains, where she honeymooned with my granddad, and spent their 50th wedding anniversary.
The main thing I remember about my grandmother, however – her one overriding quality – was how calm and unhurried she always was. My granddad, by comparison, was virtually the opposite. Clarence was up at sunrise doing something and wouldn’t sit still all day long. He was busy planning activities, outgoing, bustling around.
Grandmother, by contrast, was always in the background, quiet and content.
In a world that prizes achievers and extroverts above “peacemakers,” this calmness was a rare quality. Like Aunt Bea on Andy Griffith or Melanie from Gone with the Wind, Carlean was a gentle fixture at the Hudson house. You could tell her you were going to play the fiddle up on the roof and she would answer calmly, “Of course you are, hon.”
Carlean had come from the generation who used lard and bacon grease in everything, and as she grew older, we secretly feared she might have a heart attack or stroke at an early age. She surprised us all, however, by outliving my granddad, living as a widow for 13 years.
The secret to her longevity was simple – peace. Not the kind you force yourself to have, plot into your schedule and feel guilty about taking, but real peace.
It is the silent lesson I learned from my grandmother.
Up until the day she died, she took coffee at her kitchen table, which could take up to an hour, watching the cardinals play outside the window. I often remarked that Grandmother was so laidback, a hurricane could have been bearing down on the house with her in the middle of it, and she would be sitting calmly in the den, rocking away.
For the past 10 years, when she had a birthday, she would annoy us all with matter-of-fact comments about how it had been a great birthday…but it would probably be her last, with the same tempo of one calmly announcing that the casserole needed to be taken out of the oven.
“You know, we’re not promised tomorrow.”
At this, I would be indignant, ordering her to hang in there and promising her great things if she reached her next birthday. All the while knowing her words were true.
We’re not promised tomorrow.
These words have been infused with an enthusiastic twist by modern speakers and authors….Seize the day!…Live intentionally…Make each moment count….or a slew of other motivational demands to do something fabulous with today and live at a frenetic pace.
But I like my grandmother’s version better. Just the simple warning that we’re not promised tomorrow.
She said this over and over with the politeness of someone raised in the South and the authority of an octogenarian.
So upon grandmother’s passing last week, my heart was prepared for what I had always known to be true.
We’re not promised a lot of things. But life goes on, and peace is how you handle it. In the morning, with a cup of coffee.
Tis the season to be thankful. So today as I sit at the kitchen table drinking out of one of the chipped mugs she loved so well, I’m having one last cup of coffee.
With love….for Carlean.